Our St. Patrick’s Day

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, but unlike my younger self, I will not be partaking in green spirits. See, fourteen years ago Kelly and I went on our first date. The movie was Final Destination, and we went to Perkins Restaurant afterwards. I had no idea then that I would still be with her fourteen years later, that we’d be living in Kansas City, and that we’d have so many animals.

To mildly celebrate, I made a shamrock shaped pizza for dinner. The leafs didn’t come out quite like I wanted after being baked, but no complaints with the taste!

Skepticism & Values: Vegan vs Living Vegan

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about skepticism and social justice and now how I wondered if people who wanted to focus on skepticism weren’t just bored with skepticism. Most people understood what I was getting at, but a few didn’t. I got into a little comment discussion with one such person, about mixing skepticism and values. At one point I said the following:

…I’m not aware of any double blind test to “prove” the ethics of veganism…

The guy on the other side responded with:

Then I’m sorry but to me you’re engaged in special pleading.
Veganism would have a great affect on the entire agricultural industry…I’m sorry but you’re everything that bothers me about the skeptical movement.

Now, here we have a case where I was surely not asking for special pleading, I was simply saying I was unaware of any way prove whether the ethics of veganism were true. He replied that we could measure the effects of veganism on the agricultural industry. You could take it a step further too, and see the effects on greenhouse gas emissions, health (I’m not implying there is an effect, but you could measure the changes or lack of changes), etc. So it appears to me we each had two different ideas about what constitutes veganism. This got me thinking and I will now attempt to outline a new approach for thinking about veganism. This may or may not apply to other values/ethics.

If you’re a vegan, and you’ve read a lot of literature on veganism, I think you might agree with me that it’s hard to pin down what veganism really is. Large groups of people are vegans for different reasons with different goals. Some goals make it harder to stay vegan, some might make it easier.

So first, let’s state one thing straight up: Living vegan, the act of not consuming or using any product that comes from an animal, is an action that can be measured (I realize I’m simplifying this). It may not be practical to measure the effects of one single vegan, but in aggregate I’m confident it’s possible to make predictions and perform tests to see the effects. We can conduct tests to see if vegans live longer or shorter, have more or less heart attacks, or are more or less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Living vegan, though, is not necessarily the same as being vegan. The above commenter, who said I was asking for special pleading, was really only looking at “living vegan”.

So what is “being vegan”? This part gets much more complicated, and I will perhaps dance to close to the line of “No true Scotsman.” To counteract that, I will say up front that I’m not sure what a “true vegan” really is.

Some vegans come to veganism for health reasons. This is perhaps one of the weakest reasons to become a vegan, if your goals are better health. You don’t need to be vegan to eat healthy, and a vegan diet isn’t necessarily healthy. I’m thinking about making a cheeseburger calzone: does that sound healthy?

There are those that become vegan because of a fear of the modern industrialism of food production. They want to eat organic, or some times raw. Their goals are usually a combination of wanting better health and living a more back to nature kind of life. These kind of vegans often perplex me because I’m not sure I understand their goals. They often run smack into the naturalistic fallacy.

Others become vegans out of the rights for animals. Some, like myself, start out as health vegans, and move to be an animal rights vegan. I have looked at the science, I’ve looked into the history of animal subjugation, and I’ve come to the conclusion that animals deserve the same rights and respect we give (or should give) to all humans.

Back to the commenter I was having a discussion, how would you prove this? I still am unaware of anyway to “prove” something like this.

So which of these different kinds of vegans are truly vegan? Eh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t even know where to start. My friend Dave has written a great post on similar ground, and you should read his blog period. I outlined just three kind of vegans, but there are more for sure, as he shows. There are a lot of problems, as Dave shows, with all that the vegan movement tries to encompass, so much so, that it’s almost a certainty that people will fall in and out of veganism as their goals change.

So where does this leave me? Well, I often describe myself as “vegan”, but perhaps a better description would be “living vegan for animal rights” or something along those lines. It outlines my actions and describes why. It illustrates what actions I take that can be measured, and shows my values which are the result of skepticism.

I would love to hear your views so please comment down below! This line of thinking is a work in progress so any and all input is welcome.

Applied Skepticism: Example 2 – The Great Chain of Being

This post about applied skepticism is a little less straightforward then the last one I did.  This time I’m focusing on the concept of the “Great Chain of Being” idea and how it relates to veganism.  My personal version of veganism consists of me avoiding using animal products in my every day life and believing that animals deserver much greater consideration that they receive now.

The “Great Chain of Being” is a concept that reaches back thousands of years and is a scientifically illiterate way of categorizing supernatural elements and living creatures.  Gods are above man, man is above wild animals, and wild animals are above domesticated animals.  There are more layers than this, but purposes of this post that’s all we need to be concerned with.

The idea that humans are better than animals pervades our society even amongst the agnostic and atheist groups in the country.  Scientists who sequence DNA and understand how linked we are at a DNA level with other animals still eat meat, weather leather, etc.  I believe it’s this idea of the “Great Chain of Being” that still holds sway over almost everyone.

Applied skepticism comes into play, because when I first became a vegetarian (not a vegan at first), I did look into the reasons people consider some animals only worth of of eating while others become members of the family.  Religion plays a big part in these views, as in most religions in the United States, humans are special.  However, religions going all the way back to the time of Aristotle have placed humans above animals.

A skeptical look at our views on animals brings up all sorts of other questions.  With the advent of genetics, how much different are we than animals?  Do the ranges of intelligence of chimps and humans overlap?  If we say that human intelligence makes us special, why do we treat the brain dead with dignity?  

Skepticism has answered all these questions for me yet, but they do poke holes in the idea of the “Grain Chain of Being”.  Our place in the world is based, not on science, but on scientifically outdated views on biology.  Without this concept, there is no reason I can think of that gives humans any right to take the life of an animal just for food.  

That’s why I will remain a vegan until the day my brain shuts down.  I don’t view animals as “lesser” creatures, but instead as fellow creatures living on Earth.  I’d also like to make clear that, again, skepticism did not lead me to be a vegan, but once again, it allowed me to examine the claims around why people eat animals, and then I made my own conclusions.

Applied Skepticism: Example 2 – The Great Chain of Being

This post about applied skepticism is a little less straightforward then the last one I did.  This time I’m focusing on the concept of the “Great Chain of Being” idea and how it relates to veganism.  My personal version of veganism consists of me avoiding using animal products in my every day life and believing that animals deserver much greater consideration that they receive now.

The “Great Chain of Being” is a concept that reaches back thousands of years and is a scientifically illiterate way of categorizing supernatural elements and living creatures.  Gods are above man, man is above wild animals, and wild animals are above domesticated animals.  There are more layers than this, but purposes of this post that’s all we need to be concerned with.

The idea that humans are better than animals pervades our society even amongst the agnostic and atheist groups in the country.  Scientists who sequence DNA and understand how linked we are at a DNA level with other animals still eat meat, weather leather, etc.  I believe it’s this idea of the “Great Chain of Being” that still holds sway over almost everyone.

Applied skepticism comes into play, because when I first became a vegetarian (not a vegan at first), I did look into the reasons people consider some animals only worth of of eating while others become members of the family.  Religion plays a big part in these views, as in most religions in the United States, humans are special.  However, religions going all the way back to the time of Aristotle have placed humans above animals.

A skeptical look at our views on animals brings up all sorts of other questions.  With the advent of genetics, how much different are we than animals?  Do the ranges of intelligence of chimps and humans overlap?  If we say that human intelligence makes us special, why do we treat the brain dead with dignity?  

Skepticism has answered all these questions for me yet, but they do poke holes in the idea of the “Grain Chain of Being”.  Our place in the world is based, not on science, but on scientifically outdated views on biology.  Without this concept, there is no reason I can think of that gives humans any right to take the life of an animal just for food.  

That’s why I will remain a vegan until the day my brain shuts down.  I don’t view animals as “lesser” creatures, but instead as fellow creatures living on Earth.  I’d also like to make clear that, again, skepticism did not lead me to be a vegan, but once again, it allowed me to examine the claims around why people eat animals, and then I made my own conclusions.

Podcast: Skeptic Check: OMG, GMO?

Once a month the Big Picture Science Podcast does something called “Skeptic Check” where they do a more in-depth look at various topics.  The latest episode was about asking questions about the safety of GMO.  This is a topic I take very seriously because I think GM or GE food will be a big driver towards feeding the world and helping the environment.  As a vegan, I come across anti-GMO sentiment all the time and it’s usually based in awful, terrible science.  It’s the same kind of anti-science views that have infected the conservative and sometimes libertarian views on climate change.  GMO and climate change mitigation will be very much intertwined in the future, in my opinion.

This episode was pretty good, overall.  I wish the hosts had been tougher on the anti-GMO representative, but I’m sure I’m biased.  I just felt the the arguments presented against GMO were really GMO related, but really just aspects of all farming.  The need for crop rotation, new seeds every year, no-till soil management exist no matter what farming method you use.  I thought it was interesting that non-GMO seeds, so-called “hybrids” can  not be used for more than one year either.  That’s typically considered a GMO trait.

It should also be noted, as mentioned in this podcast, almost none of the food we eat exists in nature.  It’s all engineered by humans to suit our needs. Non-GMO breeding is essentially throwing a couple strains together and see what happens.  It’s why we have so-called “killer bees”.  GMO is attempting to move only a few genes a time, but genes we know something about.  The latter seems safer to me.

In any case, if you’d like listen, go to http://radio.seti.org or download the episode here.